Blackberry & Apple Upside Down Cake

When I was a child, living in the depths of Wales, the summer holidays brought many good things…dawn-to-dusk freedom, yomping through fields and barns, ‘helping’ with hay making, riding bikes and ponies (not simultaneously), paddling in the stream, chasing water boatmen across ponds and marvelling at the way they could walk on water, eating crab apples (and never getting belly ache, despite everyone’s assertions that we would), building dens, grubbing in mud…kid paradise.

BlackberriesThe other thing that summer brought was blackberries – in fields and gardens, along hedgerows, in a derelict chapel, filling the little island in the middle of the stream – simply acres of unpolluted, naturally growing, free to all, fat, purple, lip-and-finger-staining berries. Three of us could easily harvest two buckets each within a matter of hours (it would probably have taken less time if we’d not eaten so many along the way), and there would still be plenty more for the days and weeks to follow.  Mum made a lot of jam.

So you see, to me blackberries are something you forage for and pick yourself by the bucket load – they’re not something you buy at around £2-£4 for a teeny little 170g pack of not-quite-ripe, cultivated, inferior flavoured, supermarket berries (oops, I think my food snobbery’s showing 😉 ).

That price just seems insane to me, so I tend to go without unless I happen across some rare, relatively unpolluted, inner city scrub land that’s bearing fruit.Big fat berries

However, if someone else succumbs to said insanity, then gifts me the berries, I am not going to spurn the gesture – that would just be rude.

Which is why, when a friend recently tossed a pack of Mexican blackberries to me and said, “I bought you these – thought you’d be able to do something with them”, I did not respond with, “Are you mad?!”  I simply said “Thank you very much”, and started to plan what to make.

Baked apple and blackberry cakeThis was an experimental recipe so required tweaks revealed themselves in the review process.  What follows is a posting of what I actually did, with guidance on the things that should be done differently.

The ingredients list is accurate and will work for a 7″ or 8″ round cake tin.

Because I was experimenting, I split my mix and did a 5″ tin with apple and blackberry, and a 4″ tin with just blackberries.  This produced two very different cakes – the one with apple was more of a pudding really, and the other a tea/coffee cutting cake.  Both had their own merits.

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Blue cheese, pear and pancetta salad

With only one to cater for, the focus for Day 4 of the Cupboard Challenge was to use up some of the really small portions of stuff.  In the end it was a quick and simple affair.  Just like this post 😉

Quantities are for one serving.

Ingredients
1 ripe pear
A hunk of Stilton or other blue cheese, similar size to the pear
A handful of cubed pancetta
Baby spinach or other green salad leaves
A handful of walnut pieces (optional)

Dressing ingredientsFor the dressing
2 dessert spoons mayonnaise
1 dessert spoon natural yoghurt
1 teaspoon mustard
A splash of balsamic dressing (or just balsamic vinegar)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Music

This won’t take long, so press play and let’s get movin’…DressingPut all the dressing ingredients into a small jar, tighten lid and shake vigorously.  Or put them into a small bowl and stir energetically.

Adjust seasoning according to taste – bear in mind the saltiness provided by the cheese and pancetta to the end dish.

That’s your dressing done.Cubed pancettaHeat a frying pan and cook the pancetta cubes over a medium to high heat until brown and crispy.  Set to one side on kitchen roll.

Toasted walnuts would have been the ideal finishing touch for this salad, so even though we had none in, and thus I didn’t use any, I’ve included them in the ingredient list.  In hindsight, I should have used the toasted sunflower seeds that we do have in to provide that glorious contrasting crunch.

If you have some nuts or seeds in the house and you want to use them to top the salad, now is the time to toast them…a quick shake ‘n’ stir over a high heat in a dry frying pan will do the job.
Pear and StiltonQuarter and core (but don’t peel) the pear.  Cube both pear and blue cheese and place in a bowl.

This picture shows sun dried tomatoes strewn over the dish.  I advise against this - the texture was all wrong and their flavour jarred with the rest.  
This picture shows sun dried tomatoes strewn over the dish. I advise against this – the texture was all wrong and their flavour jarred with the rest.

Pour dressing over the cheese and pears; stir gently to combine.

Make a little bed on your plate with the salad leaves, pile the dressed cheese and pears onto it, and scatter the pancetta (and nuts, if using) over the top.

That’s it, you’re done!

Grab a fork and eat.

x

Spiced Chicken Kebabs with Mango Salsa

We awoke early this morning to a stunningly beautiful, hot, sunny day – a rare enough occasion in these parts to instantly elevate the day’s status to ‘awesome’.

Days like this tend to trigger serious house and garden maintenance activity from both Barn and me – dust motes dancing in sun rays are only romantic in films and photographs, and prostrating oneself for sun worship amidst towering grasses and triffidesque weeds is not altogether appealing.

Today, by some unspoken agreement, and in a manner quite atypical of the Renegade household, we went with the ‘traditional’ breakdown of tasks: while he was outside, hacking around, always alert for the possibility of discovering lost tribes in the depths of the wilderness, I was hurtling around the house, corralling possessions back to their designated areas, collecting laundry from behind the bathroom door, and terrorising dust bunnies with the hoover.

In no time at all the house was guest presentable and the garden is now, if not tamed, at least subdued.  It’s amazing how quickly things can get done when the sun is doffing its hat and waggling its hot little fingers at you.

The view from the garden swing seat
The view from the garden swing seat

I think the smell of cut grass and the heat of the sun joined forces with the temptingly ripe mango to influence the dinner menu on Day 2 of the Cupboard Challenge.

Serves two
Plan ahead as this requires marinading time!

Chicken Kebab Ingredients
400g chicken breast, cut into chunks
1 courgette, cut into chunks
1-2 onions, cut into chunks

It would have been better with lime, but lemon was what we had...
It would have been better with lime, but lemon was what we had…

Marinade
1 Scotch Bonnet chilli, finely chopped
2 spring onions, sliced
Zest and juice of half a lemon
Approx. 2 dessert spoons dark brown sugar (I used muscovado)
A good couple of glugs of olive oil
Approx. 4 tablespoons tamari (or soy sauce if not bothered about gluten)
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1-2 teaspoons fresh thyme
A good grating of fresh nutmeg

Although there's garlic in this picture, I didn't use it in the end, deciding the flavour would be too strong.
Although there’s garlic in this picture, I didn’t use it in the end, deciding the flavour would be too strong.

Mango Salsa Ingredients
1 ripe mango, diced
2 spring onions, sliced
zest and juice of half a lemon (again, lime would have been better)
Half Scotch Bonnet chilli, finely chopped
A handful of fresh coriander, roughly chopped
Sea salt and fresh black pepper
Music

Chicken in marinade

Get the kebabs under way by putting all the marinade ingredients into a shallow dish and mixing well.  Add chicken chunks and smoosh around with your hands to ensure all the pieces are well coated. Cover with cling film and leave in the fridge for a minimum of 4 hours (I think 6 hours would be even better).

Mango salsa

Next up, put all the salsa ingredients into a bowl, stir well, cover and refrigerate for around 4-6 hours (depending how long your chicken’s getting).

While the chicken’s marinading and the salsa’s melding, go and read a trashy novel (or your personal equivalent).  If possible, sit in sunshine.

Courgettes and onions

Chickn and veg on skewers

When the marinading time’s up, or you’re ravenous and just can’t wait any longer, thread alternating chunks of chicken, courgette and onion onto skewers.

Chicken kebabs

Grill, or barbecue, turning frequently, making sure the chicken is thoroughly cooked.  Baste with marinade during cooking to keep the chicken moist and intensify flavour.

Spicy chicken kebabs, mango salsa and potato wedgesServe with oven crisped potato wedges, peppery watercress and the luscious mango salsa.  Or serve with other things, as you wish.

This whole meal tasted amazing; however, visually it would have benefited from additional colour.  If I’d had any I’d have added sweet red pepper, either diced in the salsa or chunked for the kebabs.  In the absence of red peppers, perhaps I should have used tomatoes?

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Thai Style Meatballs

The first focus for the Cupboard Challenge was to use up six Italian herb flavoured meatballs that were in the freezer. We’d eaten their compatriots with tomato sauce and spaghetti, but had not been wildly impressed – that’s why the last six were still in the freezer waiting to be cooked.

I’m happy to say they were quite delicious served up like this.

To serve two:

herbs and spicesCurry Paste Ingredients
4 cloves garlic
2 red bird’s eye chillies (I remove the seeds – you might like to keep them in and set your mouth on fire)
1 green finger chilli (see above)
1 kaffir lime leaf
a chunk of fresh ginger, peeled
1 teaspoon galangal paste
1 teaspoon tamarind paste
Zest and juice of 1 lime
2-3 teaspoons tamari (or use soy sauce)
A good handful of fresh coriander
Approx. 150g soffritto

Other Ingredients
Approx. 2 tablespoons rapeseed/canola oil
6 meatballs
5 tablespoons passata
1 tin coconut milk
1 chicken stockpot (I’m sure a stock cube would do just as well)
1 handful green beans
Rice noodles
1 spring onion, chopped, to garnish
Music

Ready?  Ok, let’s get started…with soffrito, chopped

Chuck all the curry paste ingredients into the food processor and whizz until finely chopped.

browning the meatballsHeat oil in pan (you need to use one that has a lid – the lid comes later), add meatballs and curry paste.  Cook, stirring frequently, until meatballs are browned and spice mix is beginning to release those yummy oils.

passata

coconut milk

Chicken stockpot

Add passata, coconut milk and stockpot.  Stir well, bring to the boil then lower heat.  Cover pan with lid (there’s the lid!) and gently simmer for around 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

green beans

Add green beans and cook for a further 15 minutes.Rice noodles

While the beans are cooking, get your rice noodles under way.  These ones just need to be soaked in hot water for 15 minutes – simplicity itself.Thai style meatballs with rice noodles

Drain noodles, ladle on meatballs and sauce, scatter with chopped spring onion, say, “ta-da!”

So that’s what I cooked up.  What would you have done with the six bland meatballs?

x

Introducing the Cupboard Challenge

Cupboard ChallengeI collect ingredients with the compulsive fervour of a school boy collecting football cards.

Our ‘big shop’ is done (online) with some consideration and a degree of meal planning.  However, if I allow myself to roam, in real life, anywhere ingredients are sold, I tend to buy like a hoarder, without plan or direction.

A fresh, shiny purple aubergine, a little tub of some exotic spice, a wonderfully shaped pasta, salty white truffle butter, a pile of glistening, fat olives…when it comes to quality ingredients, I have scant self control – sensory pleasure takes over and I just have to possess it.  I don’t necessarily know how I’m going to use it, but I’m sure I will .  

Now, there’s one thing that stands between me and becoming a scoundrel who contributes significantly to the profligate waste of the planet’s resources – the fact that I hate seeing food go in the bin.  Combine this with the inevitable overstocks resulting from my purchasing habits, and you will see why there are times when our meal preparation resembles an edition of Ready, Steady, Cook.

A recent inventory of our food resources has indicated the need for a whole cooking programme series, never mind a single edition.  And so it came to pass that Barn and I made a pledge – for at least a 10 days we will cook using only what is already in the house – we call it a Cupboard Challenge.

Truth be told, this is not going to be a particularly difficult challenge; the cupboards are well stocked with basics, including an untold number of spices, varieties of pasta and rice, tins of tomatoes, and canned beans.

The fridge contains our usual wide selection of cheeses and massive array of condiments and pickles, plus veg, salad items, cream, butter and other general nonsense.

Our freezer is currently filled with a wide range of odds ‘n’ sods:  half a dozen or so different pots of sauces, wraps, soffritto, a variety of veg,  lots of ‘odd’ portions of meat and fish – one lamb chop, one salmon fillet, one pork loin steak…  There’s a few good portions of meat (minced pork, chicken breast, a beef joint, 12 pork sausages) but it’s mostly stuff that is insufficient in quantity to be a meal, in and of itself, for two or more people.

Oh, and of course, due to our miserably haphazard to non-existent labelling systems, there’s also the mystery pots – those items whose true nature won’t be revealed until they’re thawed.  Exciting times!

So good people, brace yourselves for the oncoming slew of rather imprecise, slightly unusual recipes.

🙂

x

P.S. You didn’t think that picture was my actual pantry, did you?  I wish!

The food week that was – 16/02/15

It’s been another busy week in the day job arena for the entire Renegade household so most meals were made based on existing stocks and following the line of least resistance.  We also took a fair degree of inspiration from other bloggers this week – thank you for helping keep tummies full, taste buds tantalised and faces smiling.
Veg chilliMonday: Chilli-non-carne made using left overs from Medieval’s birthday meal: the remnants of both sweetcorn and tomato salsas, jalapeños, fire roasted chillies, chilli ketchup and a whole heap of diced onion and peppers went in, along with tinned tomatoes, kidney, black-eyed and haricot beans, mushrooms and a little vegetable stock.  Left doing its thang in the slow cooker all day, it came out with the flavours beautifully melded and with the perfect degree of ‘kick’.

Dressed with plenty of grated Monteray Jack, a good dollop of soured cream and freshly chopped chives this chilli was a very welcomed (if short stayed) visitor to our table.

Pork in cider sauce collageTuesday: What do you make for dinner when you have some fabulous pork steaks and a rather nice bottle of cider?  Obviously, you make pork in cider sauce.

Nice and easy – pork, sliced apple (no need to peel), onions, vegetable stock, cider and seasoning, braised in the oven.  While that’s happening – prepare and steam veg (in this case new season potatoes, carrots and purple sprouting broccoli).  Remove pork and keep warm – add a large teaspoon of wholegrain mustard to the cooked cider mix then blitz in the blender/food processor.  Transfer to small pan, add double cream until you think it’s enough (sorry…it’s how I cook!!), warm gently, adjust seasoning, pour over pork and serve.

I nearly always forget to do it, but the finished dish is more visually appealing if you keep some of the onion and apple pieces in chunks, adding them back into the sauce after blitzing the rest.  Either way…this is a lick your plate clean kind of sauce!

Banana Bread and Butter Pudding collage

Wednesday: There was only me to consider for dinner as Barn was out gym-ing (sing it with me to the tune of Bob Marley – “We’re gym-ing, we’re gym-ing…”) and would therefore fend for himself later, and Petit Man was out for the night doing I-care-not-to-think-what with his girlfriend.

I chose to have a version of bread and butter pudding.  That’s it, that’s all I had.  Apart from the chocolate ice-cream on top.  It pleased the kid inside me who once declared, “When I’m a grown up I’m going to eat a whole pudding all to myself!”  It confirmed (as if it were needed) to my adult self that there is a good reason we don’t let kids eat a whole pudding all to themselves.

It all started because The Sweet and Savory Bite published this recipe for Amaretto Bread Pudding.  Now I’m not blaming the lovely Lizzy for what then ensued, nor am I saying her delicious and rather stylish pudding bears any relation to the gooey nursery food that I produced…I’m just sayin’ that her post was a catalyst… Until reading that post, I’d not thought about traditional English bread and butter pudding in years; once the memory had been awakened I could not get it to go back to sleep.

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Computer whizz

I was asked, through a colleague at work, if I could make a birthday cake that conformed to halal requirements, for a young lady who loves computers and was going to be celebrating her 14th birthday.  The request was for a cake that was vanilla and strawberry flavoured, and not too sweet.

I examined the ingredients of the cake and the finer detail of ingredients within the fondant, colours etc., consulted with some Muslim friends, researched online, and found that producing a halal cake involved only minor changes from my usual ingredients (eg. using vanilla paste, where the vanilla is suspended in sugar syrup, rather than vanilla extract, which is suspended in alcohol).

I already had some ideas brewing, involving my new lights, so I happily agreed to do it.

Computer Themed 14th Birthday Cake The cake was a three layer vanilla Madeira, filled and frosted with strawberry and vanilla flavoured Italian meringue buttercream.  The lights were set into the cake before covering it with fondant and placing the circuit board panels over the top…less tricky than anticipated.

IconsCircuit board panels and icons custom printed with edible ink onto sugar sheets.
Monitor & MouseFondant monitor and mouse with lemon flavoured post-it notes.

I loved this cake for several reasons – it was the smoothest finish I’d achieved to date, I got to use some more of my lights, and the design worked well.  But most of all I loved this cake because it led me to Italian meringue buttercream.

The requirement for a ‘not too sweet’ cake saw me wandering the internet in search of guidance.  There I uncovered the wonders of Italian meringue buttercream; the discovery brought about the hugest leap in both taste and appearance of my cakes.  It was an absolute revelation…it’s a dream to work with, light and satiny, really willing to make the cake flat and smooth, with none of the sticky, greasiness that I associate with its American counterpart.

Additionally, with far less sugar (none of it icing sugar, so you don’t come out of the kitchen looking like Miss Haversham),  Italian meringue buttercream doesn’t have the tooth curling, over powering sweetness of the American one.  It allows flavours to shine, complementing them and the cake it adorns.

I keep telling myself I’ll try the Swiss meringue version, but I’m so happy with the Italian one, I’ve not yet got around to it.

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Cakes for Christmas

Christmas related baking started in a simple enough fashion.  I played with some recipes, piped a few swirls, scattered some gold pearls, thusly:

Frosted Christmas cupcakesHere we have moist spiced orange sponge, studded with juicy cranberries, topped with orange & cinnamon buttercream. Demonstrating two piping styles – one finished with orange zest, the other with gold pearls.  When I came up with these beauties I thought I’d captured Christmas in a cupcake.  But I was wrong.

Christmas cupcakesWhat really captured Christmas in a cupcake was the ‘mince pie’ cupcakes I came up with next.  I used a spiced vanilla sponge packed with dried fruits and orange peel.  Then, when they were still warm from the oven, I drizzled them with a fresh lemon soak. Finally, I topped them with vanilla buttercream and decorated with fondant.

With demands for more flooding in from family and friends I got on a roll (ha!) with my fondant designs, and things kinda snowballed (haha!)

SantasI made worried looking Santas, and some more relaxed ones.

Penguin & ReindeerThere were perky penguins and startled reindeer.

SnowmenThere were snowmen, resplendent in an array of stripy bobble hats.

Christmas puddingThere were Christmas puddings….

Choirboy…and then there were choirboys with mouths that made them disturbingly reminiscent of blow up sex dolls.  I stopped with the cupcakes after that.

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Autumn Cupcakes

During October 2013 I did a fair bit of experimentation with cupcake flavours, creating three new recipes with which I was happy.  I’m happy to verify that relaxed bliss can be achieved by taking any of the following Autumnal creations, adding hot chocolate, a snuggly blanket and a black & white afternoon matinee.

Cherry Bakewell CupcakesCherry Bakewell cupcakes: almond sponge cake, centrally filled with morello cherry flavour buttercream, covered with lemon laced fondant and topped with a cherry.  All boxed up ready to go to Mum and Big Sis.

Banoffee grows upGrown up banoffee cupcakes: roasted banana sponge topped with a puddle of dulce de leche (which is just a posh name for caramel made using a boiled tin of condensed milk), dark chocolate buttercream and a banana chip.  These were incredibly good.

Spiced Toffee AppleSpiced toffee apple cupcakes: fresh apple pieces set between two layers of gently spiced vanilla sponge cake (cinnamon and cloves).  Topped with a cloud of vanilla buttercream, drizzled with dulce de leche and sprinkled with toasted nuts and cinnamon spiced dried apple pieces.

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(Some of) The Cakes of 2011-2012

During the early years of gluten free baking experimentation I was frequently curtailed by lack of funding.  By choosing to go to university I’d cut our household income in half, and it seemed a bit like taking the piss to spend too large a proportion of the tiny amount left over on cake ingredients.  For cakes that might not even work out that well.

I was also curtailed by time.  I set myself the target of a First, and I’m proud to say I earned it.  However, that involved sacrificing just about everything else in my life in order to study.  When I signed up it was 22 years since I’d last been in the education system…I had to work for those marks!  So, that meant that most of the baking done during the study years was within the confines of the summer break.

All of this meant that progress was a bit stop/start but whenever I could I was being brave and getting stuck in – trying out new things, learning and improving techniques.

Black Forest GateauGetting chocolate cake right was high on the list of priorities.  This Black Forest Gateau was for Barn’s 2011 birthday.  Given that my husband’s such a fan of the 70s (I know!  Bizarre or what?!), I decided to do a 70s style menu…prawn cocktail, steak ‘n’ chips plus the gateau.

There’s some whacking great bubble holes in that beast, but I was really getting there with the general flavour and texture.

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